The mistranslation of Romans 5:1 is a tragedy. The majority of Bible readers will never know this verse is about Messiah’s faithfulness. None of the standard English versions render the key word as faithfulness. All of them choose “by faith” instead of “by faithfulness.”
The “by faith” reading encourages us to see ourselves as the primary actor in this drama. “We have been justified by faith,” suggests that God’s gift of forgiveness and restoration comes in response to something we do first. Our faith, our belief, is the instrumental cause, it seems, of God’s act of justifying.
But if the text actually says “by faithfulness,” readers are less likely to read Paul as talking about us. We are used to the idea that our willingness to believe is the condition which activates God’s forgiveness. We have been trained not to imagine that our goodness brings his favor to us. Therefore, merely translating the Greek pistis πίστις as “faithfulness” rather than “faith” already brings needed clarity.
That’s because then it occurs to us Paul may have been talking about something Messiah did which opened the way for God’s restoring grace, and not something we did.
Vs. 1. Therefore, we have been justified by faithfulness and it follows from this that we have peace with God through Messiah.
Romans 5 says “therefore,” urging the reader to remember what was said at the end of Romans 4. Paul builds his case from what came before and will express the heights of his topic here in chapter 5 and also in chapter 8. Looking back to the end of Romans 4, we find there that Messiah Yeshua was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Messiah’s accomplishments make Romans 5:1 true, not our accomplishments. Messiah was delivered up and so, Romans 5:1, we have been justified by [Messiah’s] faithfulness.
He loved us first. He acted for us first. We “have been” justified, passively. He gave. We received. This peace with God that we now know came to us as a result of the revelation of Messiah’s sacrifice, victory, and his being disclosed afterward at the right hand of God.
For Paul the transforming experience of seeing Yeshua changed everything. He saw that Yeshua was alive in his Damascus Road experience. He calls on us to look at the same thing. Yeshua’s death was not accidental nor was Yeshua strictly speaking a victim. For Yeshua, losing to the power of Rome was a victory. This becomes apparent when we see, in our mind’s eye since we are not as fortunate as Paul who saw directly, the ascended Yeshua at the right hand of God. Yeshua was faithful. By his faithfulness we have been justified, declared right with God, chosen to be loved and restored, made as if we never were apart from God.